Fiber may not be the sexiest part of your diet, but it’s one of the most important. Dietary fiber consists of the non-digestible carbohydrates, mostly from components of plants. The human body does not make the types of enzymes needed to break the bonds in these fibers, so they pass through the body relatively intact.
There are two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber attracts water as you digest your food, and turns into a type of gel. You can get soluble fiber in oat bran, nuts, seeds, and beans (to name a few). Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and green leafy vegetables. You need both types of this “roughage” for optimal health.
Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are examples of fiber-rich foods.
Haven’t been paying attention to how much fiber you get in your diet? Here are five reasons why you should!
Reason 1: Fiber Nourishes Your Microbiome
Your gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of beneficial microbes (called the "gut microbiome”) that live in a symbiotic relationship with you. This means that you benefit them and they benefit you. Just like you, these microbes need to eat to live and grow, so they obtain nourishment from the undigested part of the food, (fiber), that is passing through your intestines by fermenting it. (I should point out that fiber that promotes the growth of the intestinal microbiome are called prebiotic fibers, and that not all fibers are considered prebiotic.)
A healthy gut microbiome can protect you against disease-causing bacteria because the good bacteria competes for space in the intestines, blocking the bad guys from taking hold. It can also help you absorb otherwise non-absorbable nutrients like certain antioxidant polyphenols, and produce vital micronutrients (like vitamin K5).
Scientists are just starting to understand the impact the microbiome can have on your overall health, and the next 10 years will surely reveal more information to support the power of the microbiome.
Reason 2: Fiber Keeps You Feeling Full Longer Between Meals
Because fiber is so difficult for your body to break down, it stays in your gastrointestinal tract longer compared to simple carbohydrates like table sugar. Having food in your system helps you feel full for longer. This is the reason some studies show high-fiber diets help you eat less, which can impact weight management. Fun fact: Research shows that this effect is compounded when fiber and protein are consumed together.
Reason 3: Fiber Supports Healthy Blood-Sugar Levels
Consuming a meal that’s mostly sugar or simple carbohydrates causes a tidal wave of sugar into your bloodstream. High-fiber meals, however, help slow the emptying of the stomach, resulting in a trickle of sugar into the bloodstream. A slower release of sugar into the blood helps maintain a constant energy stream, rather than energy peaks and lulls. So, eat whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies as your carbohydrate sources to support healthy blood glucose levels.
Reason 4: Fiber Supports Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Eating a diet high in fiber is associated with reduction of risk for cardiovascular disease, mostly because it helps to reduce “bad” cholesterol, aka low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Fiber—soluble fiber in particular—can support the reduction of “bad” LDL cholesterol without negatively impacting “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Soluble fiber can be found in foods like oats, barley, lentils, some fruits and vegetables, and psyllium fiber supplements.
Think of soluble fiber like a sponge, and dietary fat and cholesterol-carrying bile acids as liquid that you want to soak up and get rid of. The fiber soaks up particles the fat and bile acids from the intestines and holds on to them until they are excreted (in poop). So, the fiber not only helps to rid the body of dietary fat that can contribute to the cholesterol circulating in your blood, but it also helps to reduce your body’s production of cholesterol. Bile acids are particles involved in your body’s production of cholesterol (yes, you actually make cholesterol), so ridding the body of some bile acids with fiber can reduce the amount of cholesterol produced by your body—double win!
Reason 5: Fiber Makes You Have Better Poops
No, it’s not pretty, but let’s face it, they didn’t write a book called “Everyone Poops” for nothing. Pooping is a fact of life, but when it’s difficult to go, it’s really not fun.
Fiber helps you poop through several mechanisms that increase the weight of the stool, making it easier to pass. Insoluble fiber is the kind of fiber that does not absorb water (sources include: wheat bran, vegetables, or flax seeds). It adds physical bulk to the stool, making the stool larger. Believe it or not, the bacteria that are excreted with your stool also add bulk as well. Soluble fibers (sources include: oat bran and lentils) absorb water, softening the stool.
How Much Fiber Should I Eat?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that adult men consume 30-38g of fiber per day, and that adult women consume 21-25g of fiber per day for optimal health. The recommended intake for pregnant and lactating women is 28 and 29 g, respectively. The Daily Value for fiber, which is a more broad recommendation (for males and females age 4 and up), have recently been proposed to be increased from 25g to 28g, further highlighting the importance of fiber. A word of warning—if you have been consuming a super low fiber diet, increase your intake gradually (about 5 g per day). If you increase the fiber really dramatically, you may experience some unwanted gastrointestinal distress (gas, cramping, bloating).
How to Sneak Fiber Into Your Day
Fiber has been identified as a “nutrient of public health concern” according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. This committee uses data from three sources to evaluate the diet quality of Americans (including data from NHANE’s What We Eat in America, the CDC’s Second National Report on Biochemical Indices of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population, and other prevalence data from the CDC. Health statistics show that most Americans are not getting enough fiber, so it’s important for you to try to get more into your daily meal plan.
Here are some excellent options:
- Fresh fruits: All fruits are great. Berries, figs, and pears are especially fiber-rich.
- Fresh vegetables: Roasted Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and turnips are excellent sources of fiber.
- Leafy Greens: Try spinach, kale, or collard greens sautéed in a drizzle of olive oil, tossed into your salad or blended into a smoothie. Leafy greens pack a punch of fiber plus vitamins and minerals.
- Legumes: A lightly dressed lentil salad is a great way to get your fiber, as are chickpeas and edamame. Potatoes are another excellent source of fiber, but make sure you eat the skin—that’s where most of the fiber lives.
- Whole Grains: By definition, a whole grain leaves the grain intact and includes the bran, germ and endosperm. Old fashioned oats, quinoa, or wheat berries are versatile, satisfying, and packed with fiber.
- Nuts and Seeds: Whether you prefer almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or other types of nuts, you’re not only getting a healthy dose of fiber, but healthy fats, protein, and phytochemicals, too!
- Supplements: Greens + Vitality, Whole Food Shake, or Vegan Protein Snack Bars from Nourish + Bloom: These vegan, soy-free, gluten-free options are travel-sized and high in fiber.
Fiber-Rick Shake Recipe
- 1 banana
- 2 handfuls baby spinach
- 8-10 oz. water
- Handful frozen strawberries
- Handful frozen blueberries
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- 1 packet Nourish + Bloom Whole Food Shake (or 1 serving of your favorite vegan protein powder)
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